Summit fashion: Apec world leaders step out in silky, high-collared 'Mao suit' tunics

A general view shows the Beijing National Aquatics Center where leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meet in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A general view shows the Beijing National Aquatics Center where leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meet in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Taiwanese envoy to the APEC summit Vincent Siew (second, left) and Susan Chu (left) are welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit banquet at the Beijing Nation
Taiwanese envoy to the APEC summit Vincent Siew (second, left) and Susan Chu (left) are welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit banquet at the Beijing National Aquatics Center in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie (left) pose for a photo with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit banquet at the National Aquatics Center in t
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie (left) pose for a photo with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit banquet at the National Aquatics Center in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (second left) and his wife Ho Ching pose for photographs with China's President Xi Jinping (second right) and his wife Peng Liyuan, during the Apec Welcome Banquet at Beijing National Aquatics Center, or the
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (second left) and his wife Ho Ching pose for photographs with China's President Xi Jinping (second right) and his wife Peng Liyuan, during the Apec Welcome Banquet at Beijing National Aquatics Center, or the Water Cube, in Beijing, on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) posing for a "family photo" at the Beijing National Aquatics Center in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
The leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) posing for a "family photo" at the Beijing National Aquatics Center in the Chinese capital on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk ahead of other leaders as they arrive for the Apec Summit family photo in Beijing on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk ahead of other leaders as they arrive for the Apec Summit family photo in Beijing on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing rolled out a gleaming red carpet for Asia-Pacific leaders garbed in sleek, high-collared Chinese tunics as it kicked off a regional summit in spectacular fashion on Monday.

Despite their diplomatic differences Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were united in imperial purple for a group photo, with the visitor from Moscow given pride of place next to the host.

Obama was also in the front row, a few places to Xi's left, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - in green - was relegated to the back, next to New Zealand's John Key.

Australia's Tony Abbott, who has threatened to "shirtfront" Putin - an Australian Rules Football term for charging an opponent - over the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in rebel-held Ukraine in July, was positioned directly behind the Russian, but smiled and waved.

The leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) gathering were driven to the dinner venue - the glowing blue Water Cube that saw the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - along a road glowing a rich nationalist Chinese red.

Hundreds of wildly cheering dancers dressed in the costumes of China's dozens of ethnic minorities lined the route with the surrounding area bathed in rippling greens, yellows and blues, in a visual echo of the Games' spectacular opening.

Most leaders arrived in blocky China-made "Red Flag" limousines, but Obama stuck with his official ride, a hyper-secure vehicle known as "The Beast".

The "family photo" in the host country's traditional clothing is a fixture at the annual gathering.

This year's fashion choice was based on the "Mao suit" tunics once beloved by China's leaders, but given an elegant, silky look in lustrous purple, green or brown.

Female leaders wore long embroidered buttoned jackets, while the wives were clad in high-necked tunics draped with a loose jacket.

The tradition began when US President Bill Clinton handed out leather bomber jackets in Seattle in 1993. Leaders also donned blue-and-gold South Korean silk overcoats called durumagi in 2005, followed the next year by flowing silk ao dai tunics in Hanoi.

But in Peru, 2008 world leaders were pictured during the global financial crisis "wearing ponchos, smiling and waving" in costumes that unkind critics likened to potato sacks.

It was seen as "not really appropriate" in the circumstances, acknowledged Apec spokesman David Hendrickson, and the practice was quietly dropped.

But last year's host Indonesia revived it as its guitar-strumming president led a stylish parade of Balinese design, albeit for the welcome banquet dinner that spouses also attend, rather than the formal summit proceedings.

"There's a recovery there, or not quite there," Hendrickson said. "It's an interesting barometer of where things are in the economy."